Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Cogut Visiting Professors Discuss Courses and COVID-19 Challenges

September 16, 2020

The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies is incredibly fortunate to be hosting two Cogut Visiting Professors this year, María Inclán and Kamala Kempadoo, who will be teaching courses this Fall and Spring, respectively. We are so grateful to be able to share their knowledge with you all, and hope you have the opportunity to learn from them! Prof. Inclan and Prof. Kempadoo shared about their courses and the challenges they anticipate during this school year, due to COVID-19. 

Title of your course and a brief summary - something you can’t get from the syllabus:

María Inclán: The title of the course is Researching Social Movements in Latin America and it is intended to give students the necessary analytical skills and methodological tools to design and deliver research projects on current social movements in Latin America. It is not intended to prepare students to write academic research proposals but to present innovative research to wide audiences.

Kamala Kempadoo: I will be teaching two courses in LACS in the Spring: Caribbean Feminisms and Caribbean Migrations: Circulations, Diasporization and Return.

The course on feminisms traces the roots, histories, and contemporary practices of feminist organizing and theorizing in the Caribbean region. Attention for how feminism in black-dominant societies takes up issues of racism and the racialized difference is important here, especially in the context of global discussions about anti-black racisms, and we will also consider how Caribbean feminism handles ethnic, national, and linguistic difference.

The migrations course places emphasis on the way the Caribbean, as much of the Americas, has been forged through human movement – into, around, out of, and back to the region and ancestral homes.  Much attention is given to the legacies of slavery and indenture – the two systems of forced labour that profoundly shaped the Caribbean – and to diasporization and transnational connections. 

Have you taught this course/a similar course elsewhere? 

María: I have taught traditional research design and political sociology courses before, and I have worked with students in the field many times in the past, but I have never combined both subjects into one course. I want to take advantage of Brown students' creative initiative to experiment with this new way of teaching both areas of expertise.

Kamala: Indeed. I have taught similar courses at my home institution, York University, in Toronto, Canada, and prior to that, I taught a course on Caribbean feminism at the University of Colorado – Boulder. The two experiences were quite different due to the different contexts of the universities. At York, we have a large student population of Caribbean descent and a very well established Latin American and Caribbean Studies focus, and at UC- Boulder when I was there, both were virtually non-existent. The make-up of the student population and exposure to LACS has a big hand in determining how I teach the course and the kinds of discussions we have in the classroom, and I expect this will also be the case at Brown.

What about this course are you most excited to teach?

María: I'm looking forward to witnessing the collective process of developing a research project. In my previous courses, I have guided students in developing individual research proposals. Doing it in groups will not only make it easier for all the members in the team to share the responsibilities, but I am convinced teamwork will trigger and strengthen their intellectual curiosity.

Kamala: What excites me most about teaching these courses is that each year there is a wealth of new studies and research that is published about the Caribbean region and its peoples, so I am constantly being introduced to new ideas and insights about a region that is close to my heart. I enjoy this continual learning process and passing the knowledge along. And because of the very large and growing Caribbean diasporas in the US, Canada and Europe, there are many dimensions to think about when we speak about migration, but also about gender, sexuality, and feminism. I love the complexity and dynamism of both topics.   

Why are you inspired to teach this material? Why do you feel it is important for students to learn?

María: More than ever before we get to hear about contentious movements around the world demanding inclusion, attention, and respect for people's basic and long fought for rights. The amount of information we get on them seems overwhelming at times, yet, little systematic analysis of these mobilizing campaigns makes it to the media and to the public eye. I would like to make social movement research more accessible to students to get them interested in how to better learn more about contentious politics in Latin America and the world. Establishing comparisons, analyzing movements' diffusion and transnational campaigns, I hope, may help us better connect and understand each other mobilizing grievances.

Kamala: As a feminist of African and Indian Caribbean descent, born in the UK and having lived in Europe, English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean countries, and North America, studying these two topics gives my own life a lot of context and meaning. I can see how larger histories that connect Europe, Africa, India, the Caribbean, and North America shape an individual and societies and produce movements, struggles, and theories for change. That is inspiring to me, and I have constructed the courses to think about those connections and struggles, and to explore how people on an everyday level, navigate this complexity.

I hope that students, in taking either of these courses, learn not just about the significance of migration and feminism in the making of the Caribbean, but also about the relevance of colonialism, migration, cultural hybridity, and anti-racist and gendered struggles in their own lives, irrespective of their link to the Caribbean. I am convinced that each one of us in the Americas has some ties to a homeland as well as to a multi-ethnic, gendered migrant and/or diasporic history, and this course offers a way to examine those connections more closely.


What should students expect at each course meeting? 

María: The class will be taught in a seminar and all activities are planned as teamwork. During each course meeting the different teams will present their answers to previously assigned challenge questions based on the readings. Progressively, these questions will relate to the teams' final research project. Thus, over the semester we will work together to learn about how to conduct research on social movements in Latin America while we actually do that. 

Kamala: Each course is designed around a set of readings on a specific topic, which I will introduce. Each week a small team of students will also be assigned to highlight the key ideas of the readings and facilitate a discussion about the content of the readings with the rest of the class. Both courses are intended for students in their junior and senior years, so I expect we can have some in-depth discussions about the work we are engaging with. There are various small written assignments that are designed to build towards a final term paper, with ample space to discuss a special research topic or interest.  I will be inviting guest lecturers to both courses to talk about some of their work, and for the feminisms course am aiming to hold a special panel session with a network on feminists from Guyana, Suriname, and French Guyana towards the end of the term.

What challenges do you anticipate due to the transition to remote learning, and the general chaos of the coronavirus? 

María: I anticipate we will need to flex our compassion and empathy to overcome the potential technological difficulties that online teaching may bring. For me, teaching a seminar online will be a whole new challenge. Last semester, once the pandemic hit Mexico City and we had to move to a remote learning model, I devoted my remote teaching time to individually coach master students with their theses' writing. This semester, students in my course may find working asynchronously and remotely in groups challenging, but I believe that by sharing the responsibility of preparing and presenting the assignments over the semester, their course load will be lightened, and their intellectual curiosity and self-confidence will strengthen. 

Kamala: The coronavirus pandemic has thrown me off quite a bit, as I was expecting to get to know Brown University and the students in the “old-fashioned,” in-person, way. I do find that face-to-face interactions (even with masks and at a distance!) have a different quality than a virtual meeting, so I am hoping to conduct the courses in a hybrid format with some in-class time. Also, because I am not a tech wizard, I might need some extra time to figure out all the things we can do in a virtual classroom.  I hope I can rise to the challenge!